The Composter

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By Alessia Pirolo

Kendall Morrison is surrounded by garbage, food waste, spores of fungus.  He is a happy man.  The director of the nonprofit organization Earth Matter cannot avoid smiling when he says that he will fill one the few green oasis in Bushwick with his beloved rubbish.

Food and dead leaves remains are the basic ingredients for compost, a natural substance for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil. One year ago, Morrison created Earth Matter, which is dedicated to studying, developing and applying the organic fertilizer.

Morrison is a 46 year old man with a greying goatee and childish blue eyes behind round glasses. Like a child, he does not mind putting his hands in the dirt. Actually he seems to enjoy it. “Everything has is place in nature,” he said.

He spent the last weeks building three compost basins in the back corner of the “Secret Garden” between Broadway and Linden Street. The entrance, behind the rail of the J and Z subway, leads to a 19,000 foot green area surrounded by grey, old buildings. Here, residents and volunteers who work with the Linden-Bushwick Block Association, the leaseholder of the garden, plant cabbage, salads, tomato and red pepper in their 26 vegetable plots.  After an agreement signed on September 15, Earth Matter has started its own compost production, on a piece of land under the leaves of ten trees.

Kendall Morrison. Photo Pirolo/Brooklyn Ink

Morrison can already figure out what it will be here by the winter. The basins will be filled with layers of food waste and dead leaves. “We build a lasagna,” he said. “Brown and green. Brown and green.” The decomposing substance has to be kept warm and to rest for at least nine weeks. At the end the waste will be become nourishment for the vegetable plots.

“Life is like the Chinese Tao: there is always a negative and a positive side,” is Morrison’s philosophy. He likes the hidden quality of things that most of the people loath. Waste, bugs, even recession. His main activity is an online shop of journals and books.

“The business is slow right now,” he said. “But it is an opportunity, I can spend my time here, I can do other things. It is a kind of temporary blessing. It’s when times are uncertain that you have the most opportunity.”

He said he used to work 40 hours a week at his own job, and another 40 hours on his volunteer activities in another Bushwick garden, where he does workshops with children. Every Wednesday he volunteers at the information stall of one of the two local green markets, just in front of the Secret Garden, on Broadway.

By next year, he hopes to sell in the market one of the first production one-hundred percent from Bushwick. Near the compost basins he is experimenting with a new mushrooms production. He is arranging pile of logs. “You have to drill a hole in the logs and inoculate the spores,” he said, with the excitement of someone discovering a new passion. The process will take between six months and two years. But at the end he hopes to produce shitake, maitake, and reishi, medical chinese mushrooms. There will be also oyster mushrooms, chicken of the woods, lions maine, that will be ready to eat. And also to sell. “The idea is to sell them in the local market,” Kendall said. He imagines producing 6 pounds of mushrooms from every log, and to sell them for 3 or 4 dollars a pound. “Economically speaking the local production doesn’t make sense, but for the big picture it does,” he said. In the local gardens people can meet, learn together, and discover how to respect the environment in their local backyard.

“Farming is one of the major causes of global warming,” he said. “We can’t feed all the city with local production, but it’s a start. If the mass production started to use local systems, compost instead of fertilizer, it would be useful for everyone.”

In the garden a group of students of the local Harbor High School worked their plot. Just outside the fence, a group of fat ladies asked in Spanish about the tomatoes sold in the first of the six stalls of the little green market. “More important, the gardens activity is a way to put people together,” Morrison said.

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